Night owls may be looking forward to falling back to standard time in the fall, but a new study from the University of Ottawa finds that daylight saving time may also suit the morning type.
Research by Cognitive Neuroscientist Dr. Stuart Fogel, Professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Psychology and Research Fellow at the Royal Institute of Mental Health, has revealed how a person’s daily rhythm and activity level affect sleep during wakefulness in relation to human intelligence. Contrary to the adage “the early bird catches the worm”, previous research has shown that late sleepers or “owls” have excellent verbal intelligence.
However, “once key factors including bedtime and age were taken into account, we found that the opposite was true, with morning type people tending to have excellent language skills,” said Stuart Fogel, director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at the University of Ottawa. “This result surprised us and shows that this is far more complex than anyone previously thought.”
Fogel’s team determined individuals’ schedules — their evening or morning tendencies — by monitoring biorhythms and daily preferences. A person’s schedule is related to what they prefer to do during the day for demanding things, from intellectual pursuits to exercise.
Younger adults are usually the “evening type”, while older adults and those who engage in daily/nocturnal activities more regularly may be the “morning type.” The juxtaposition here is that mornings are crucial for young adults, especially school-aged children and teens, whose schedules are dictated by morning-type parents and their routines. This can be harmful to young people.
“A lot of school hours are not determined by our schedules, but by parents and work schedules, so school-age children pay the price because they are evening-type and forced to work on morning-type schedules, ‘ said Fogel.
“For example, math and science classes are often scheduled earlier in the day because whatever morning tendencies they have will serve them well. But due to their evening tendencies, the morning is not when they’re at their best …Ultimately, they are at a disadvantage because the schedules imposed on them are basically fighting their biological clock every day.”
The study recruited volunteers from a wide age range who were rigorously screened to rule out sleep disturbances and other confounding factors. They equipped volunteers with monitoring equipment to measure activity levels.
Determining a person’s rhythmic intensity (which drives intelligence) is key to understanding the results of this nuanced study, Fogel said, with a person’s age and actual bedtime proving important factors.
“Our brains really crave regularity, and keeping us at our best at our own pace is about sticking to that schedule rather than constantly trying to catch up,” Fogel added.